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Peer groups, Cumbria spring group – first morning: beginning, why are we here, & how do I know what I feel?

First morning of the "Mixed Group".  This last week has been such lovely weather.  People arriving yesterday evening looking so brown.  The forecast had predicted a change to more cloudy weather, and it certainly seems accurate for this morning's rather colder, overcast feel.  Good weather to stay indoors for "group work" though ... no repeated urge to be outside in the sun.

We've been meeting here in Cumbria for these four day peer group residentials for over twenty years.  I've written quite often about these groups in this blog, for example last year's Mixed Group and last year's Men's Group.

There are just twelve of us this time ... one of the smallest peer groups that I've been to for a while.  Two couples had to cancel at fairly short notice, so we're down from the full sixteen we had intended to be.  Interestingly, for group work, I think five to about ten is a very good number (although there are then costs in how many can be reached & involved).  "Family" not "village".  As numbers creep up into the mid and high teens it increasingly seems to affect how things go in the group.  Maybe tends to slow things down a bit.  The fence, the hesitation to jump in and open up emotionally may feel a bit more daunting with larger numbers.  Sometimes this seems to lead to more extrovert, vocal group members taking up a higher percentage of the "air time" than they might if the group was smaller (with less extrovert members then finding it easier to come in).  There are so many other variables though ... the stage of the group, how secure and courageous individual members are, the amount of distress people might be holding, the culture of the group, and so on.

Some of us spoke a bit yesterday about why we come to the group.  I gave a talk (about emotions) at another residential group of people (who I mostly hadn't met before) a few days ago.  I found it fascinating to be present observing their "culture", how they interacted, how they seemed to deal with jostling for influence, with minor conflict, with what appeared to bring people to their group, how they did or didn't manage to attract new group members, and so on.  Sometimes it's said that travel abroad is especially valuable for the expanded perspective it encourages one to take of one's own country and culture when one comes back.  I found this a bit with spending a few hours with this other group.  I asked some of them why people seemed to come to their get-togethers in the first place ... what typically new members seemed to want.  I listened too to some observations about how well new members were or weren't welcomed in ... to the tension between old friends wanting to spend time together but also not wanting to leave newcomers feeling unimportant & unwanted.  Without new blood, groups, societies, lose relevance, lose vitality, grow old and die.  Without stability, continuity, there can be too much uncertainty, lack of trust, little useful work done.  Balance!  How do we do in this peer group that first started in 1991?

I find a four part understanding of why people come to the peer group quite helpful.  The four parts are friendship, personal growth work, retreat/holiday, and outreach.  I think for different people these four components carry very different weights ... their relative importance for individuals seems to change too over time.  So, for example, I might first come out of curiosity, a wish to work on myself (and how I relate with other people), and for a break/retreat/holiday.  Later, reconnecting with friends may become the most important reason for coming.  And for others, outreach, generativity, sharing and passing on becomes increasingly relevant.  I'd like to ask people more about this.  Why did they first come to these groups - the Mixed Group, the Men's Group, the Women's Group?  Why do they keep coming?  Do they agree with the four part model I've mentioned, or do they see it differently?  What balance, how do they weight the importance of the different reasons they give for coming?

And a completely different thought, a different exploration ... triggered in part by chewing over David Barlow's workshop on treatment of emotional disorders that I wrote about last month.  How do I know what I'm feeling?  I think I'm pretty good at this, at this emotional awareness.  It links with the post - "Emotional awareness training & cognitive reappraisal" - one of the six that I wrote last month about Barlow et al's "Unified protocol for treatment of emotional disorders".  I said that "In the "Client workbook" this awareness training is covered by three chapters - "Understanding your emotions", "Recognizing and tracking your emotional responses" and "Learning to observe your emotions and your reactions to your emotions". I've practised and taught mindfulness for many years ... and I find the "Unified protocol" approach to this area intriguing. The initial emphasis is educational. It's an approach to understanding emotions that I'm very sympathetic to. I think the important distinction with emotions is not whether they are positive/pleasant or negative/unpleasant but much more significantly whether they are adaptive/functional/constructive/helpful or maladaptive/dysfunctional/destructive/unhelpful ... the "Unified protocol" encourages participants to begin understanding emotions with this adaptive/maladaptive distinction. It also introduces a three part model of emotions that involves physical sensations/feelings (what I'm feeling), thoughts (what I'm thinking) and behaviours (what I'm doing). I personally prefer the fuller picture provided by an adaptation of Les Greenberg's "Five part emotional awareness" model, with its separation of "impulse or action tendency" from "wish or need" ... although it may well be that the more obvious three-part sensations/feelings, behaviours, and thoughts model may be easier to teach and track."

This four day interpersonal group is a great opportunity to look again at how I observe my own and others' emotions, how do I know what I feel (or what others' feel).  I'd like to pay some attention to this today ... and see if I learn anything new ... and whether this can help at all with teaching better emotional awareness to clients.  See tomorrow's post for more on this

 

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